From Cory Doctorow via Medium:
On January 1, 2019 something extraordinary happened. For the first time since 1998, the American public domain got bigger.
What happened in 1998? Congress — led by Rep Sonny Bono — extended the copyright on all works by 20 years. Works that had already been in the public domain went back into copyright. Works that were in copyright got an extra 20 years. The public domain…froze.
This was a wanton, destructive act. The vast majority of works that the Sonny Bono Act covered were out-of-print and orphaned, with no known owner. Putting them back into copyright for 20 years prevented their reproduction, guaranteeing that many would vanish from the historical record altogether.
As to the minuscule fraction of works covered by the Act that were still commercially viable: the creators of those works had accepted the copyright bargain of life plus 50 years. Giving them more copyright on works they’d already produced could not provide an incentive to make anything more. All it did was transfer value from the public domain into a vanishing number of largely ultra-wealthy corporate private hands.
As to living, working creators: those who’d made new works based on public domain materials that went back into copyright found themselves suddenly on the wrong side of copyright. Their creative labor was now illegal. Any working, living creator that contemplated making a new work based on material from the once-public-domain was now faced with tracking down an elusive (or possibly nonexistent) rightsholder, paying lawyers to negotiate a license, and subjecting their work to the editorial judgments of the heirs of long-dead creators.
The Sonny Bono Act is often called the Mickey Mouse Act, a recognition of the extraordinary blood and treasure that Disney spilled to attain retroactive copyright extension. This extension ensured that Steamboat Willie — and subsequent Mickey Mouse cartoons, followed by other Disney products — would remain Disney’s for another two decades.
Link to the rest at Cory Doctorow via Medium
PG would modify the factual description in the OP with a small change – The Sonny Bono Act was pushed through by California congresswoman Mary Bono (Sonny Bono’s widow and Congressional successor). Sonny served from 1995-98 and Mary, after winning a special election to become Sonny’s replacement, served from 1998-2013 after she failed to win another re-election.
Prior to getting into politics, Sonny was a musical performer, the less-talented half of Sonny & Cher.
Sonny and Cher divorced in 1975 due to Sonny’s serial affairs with other women. Prior to marrying Sonny, his second wife, Mary, later Congresswoman Bono, had worked as a cocktail waitress and fitness instructor.
Sonny and Mary each represented the congressional district dominated by Palm Springs and nearby Palm Desert, retirement destinations for the wealthy and semi-wealthy which include a number of retired actors. Author Ann Rice (Interview with the Vampire, etc.) lived in Palm Springs until her death in 2021.
PG suggests the Bonos are yet another “only in California” stories.